What Is the Son-Rise Treatment for Autism?

Son-Rise makes great claims for its unusual method of autism treatment.

Father drawing with daughter
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Barry ("Bears") Neil Kaufman and Samahria Lyte Kaufman had a son named Raun. For the first years of his life, Raun was severely autistic: non-verbal, unengaged, with a measured IQ of under 30. However, by way of extraordinary dedication and effort on the part of his parents, friends and relatives (and presumably through his own efforts as well), Raun was able to overcome his autistic challenges to become a highly intelligent, articulate, successful, and loving adult.

The Kaufmans wrote a book entitled Son-Rise about their experiences with Raun, and the book did very well. As a result of the book's success, they created an organization called the Autism Treatment Center of America, where they teach their approach to autism treatment.

The Son-Rise approach is developmental, meaning it builds on a child's own interests and abilities rather than imposing behavioral goals and drills on the child. In this sense, it is similar to Floortime and RDI, both of which are also considered to be "developmental" approaches to treating autism in children.

Son-Rise, however, has several distinctive elements:

  • Parents are expected to be extremely involved with their child's therapy, and to recruit family and friends as volunteers to take on hours of therapy each week;
  • Parent-therapists attend intensive programs in Sheffield, Mass., where they learn to be positive about their child's "limitless potential;"
  • Therapy for a child with autism begins with having parent-therapists imitate the actions of the child without encouraging different (more typical) behaviors: "We join, rather than stop, a child's repetitive, exclusive and ritualistic behaviors. Doing so builds rapport and connection, the platform for all future education and development.";
  • Parents are encouraged to create a special room for their child with autism, where that child stays put while others come to interact with him: "We show you how to create an optimal learning environment so that distractions are eliminated and interactions are facilitated."

In general, Son-Rise is attractive to parents of young children with autism who have significant time, energy, and money - and the desire to dedicate themselves intensively to their child's therapy. It's a good philosophical match for parents who have a strong community of local friends and family, and a willingness to ask for and manage volunteer support.

The effectiveness of Son-Rise is, like many autism therapy approaches: attested to largely through anecdotes.

Ask a Son-Rise parent whether the program works, and you'll hear glowing reports. And, in fact, many children do thrive with the Son-Rise program. In its favor, it carries no risks except for a loss of time and money if it is not effective.

On the other hand, there is sketchy scientific evidence that the program is appropriate or effective.